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Posts Tagged ‘dubious history’

I love me some apocryphal historical confusion, I really do. Around 30 CE, Abgar V, King of Osroene (part of modern Turkey, on the upper Euphrates) suffered from some incurable disease. Historians differ (as they do) on what disease it was, but most say either leprosy or gout. He heard about Jesus’ healing miracles, and so wrote to him via his messenger Hannan, asking for Jesus to heal him. Jesus sent back some sort of reply saying that he was “about to join his father,” (heretic translation: would die) but that one of his disciples, imbued with his power, would be sent out afterward.

Later storytellers added some things here: first, that Jesus actually wrote a letter and sent it back to Abgar (via his messenger Hannan), and second, that Hannan painted a portrait of Jesus “from life” and also took it back to the East with him. Eventually, this portrait was purported to be “not made by hands” (acheiropoieta in Greek if you’re fancy) which was all kinds of important to the iconoclasm debates but not so much here.

Anyway, Jesus died, the Apostle Thomas was put in charge of converting the East, and he sent Addai–also called Addal, and sometimes Thaddeus–one of the 72 disciples, to heal King Abgar. Abgar got healed, and Addai stuck around to do some converting, supposedly write the Doctrine of Addai, and get martyred. Weirdly, I can’t find anything about the supposed martyring besides something that says he died naturally. Usually the gruesome death is everyone’s favorite part.

We know about this because Eusebeus the church historian of the 4th century wrote about it; he claims to have seen the actual documents written by Jesus as well as the picture of Jesus. Most historians think that a fake document was planted somewhere, possibly in the archives of Edessa, Abgar’s capital city, so Eusebeus could “find” them. The Doctrine of Addai was almost certainly not written by Addai himself; some of its main concerns are with the search for the true cross (something that became a fad for a while after Constantine’s mother Helena did it in the early 4th century), and what scriptures proper Christians had been reading, also very hot in the early 4th century.

Some of the internet claims that Addai converted all Abgar’s people, but I’m pretty sure that part of the internet is wrong. More impartial sites point out that that part of the world became officially Christian in the early 3rd century, and someone alive at the same time as Jesus would not live another hundred and fifty years.

He’s also mentioned in two previously unknown Apocalypses by James the Just, found in Nag Hammadi in 1945 with the rest of the stuff The Da Vinci Code is (oh so loosely) based on.

You can pour one out for Addai/Addal/Addeus/Thaddeus every August 5th.

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